Model railroading has been a lifelong, satisfying and fun hobby. It’s hard to say what the fascination is, but there is something about trains that seems to capture the imagination of boys both young and old. I remember passing the railroad crossing on the Lehigh Valley going to my grandfather’s house and I would always hope that the gates would come down and the lights would start flashing. When that happened, we would have to stop and I would get to watch as the train would race through the crossing. I would try to count the number of cars that went by, but they always seemed to go too fast for me to keep up. How anything that big could move so fast was just amazing and from that time on, I was hooked.
Growing up in New York, the train usually meant one thing, the Subway, also known as the “El” in the outer boros. Freight trains were only seen when you passed by a yard such as Sunnyside yard in Long Island City and the best view of this was from the El. The Long Island Railroad, a hugh commuter operation that connects the suburbs with Manhattan, intertwined with the subway at various points and that’s where you could see some diesel locomotives up close. The subway system became a boy’s connection to the rest of the world- 15 cents could pretty much get you anywhere in New York City. And as you explored, these connections would start to unfold through the railfan window in the first car of the train. You discovered the PATH train to New Jersey at 34th street that brought you to Newark and a ride on their “subway” system, really just PCC trolley cars, the last trolleys that ran in the New York area. Then there was the Staten Island Rapid Transit, old 2 car trains similar to the BMT Standards that could take you all the way to the tip of the outermost boro, about as far as you could go and still be in the city and that included a ferry ride for a nickel. You knew you were really getting good when you could spend a summer’s day making a giant loop of the connections, exploring new places and getting home without getting lost- and usually spending around a dollar. If only your mother knew!
So when the model railroad bug bit, it was easy enough to get the freight operations going with the great variety of commercial products available but developing a rapid transit system was a different story. Visits to the hobby shop would occasionally turn up something of use but a subway system would probably have to be scratchbuilt. Information was even hard to come by, as most traction articles were written about trolley cars. That’s why this website was started, to share the information that I have collected about building a model rapid transit system, including but not limited to rolling stock, construction techniques, prototype and model data and photos, scenery and operation and how to integrate it into a model railroad. It will be an fun project that will probably go on for a long time and hopefully a lot of people will get involved here by sharing their experiences- the net can be another tool in our toolbox. If there is something in particular you would like to see on the site or you have something you would like to contribute you can click on the comment section or you can send me an email at Transitbill@modeltransit.com and we’ll see what we can come up with. Most of all, lets have fun! Regards to all- Transit Bill